Death, Taxes, Public Opinion, and the Midas Touch of Mary Tyler Moore: Accounting for Promises by Politicians to Help Avert and Control Diabetes


Anthropologists have begun to publish ethnographic accounts of policymaking, but few have studied medical or health matters, despite broad acceptance in anthropology that “biopower” permeates contemporary societies. This article presents some findings from an ethnographic study of how diabetes gained recognition as a pressing public health problem in Canada. It underlines the importance of statistics for constituting power within and across nation states. Statistics imbricate people and things distributed across vast distances, but they still need to be generated and invoked by individuals to engender effects–as illustrated in this article by the contributions of researchers, aboriginal leaders, and an American actress, Mary Tyler Moore–in this case, the development of Canadian government policies justified in the name of averting and controlling diabetes. To make sense of these findings, subtle differences between two concepts coined by Michel Foucault, “biopower” and “governmentality,” seem significant.